Proud fighter out to ruin Joseph Parker's party

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 05/07/2012
Dean Garmonsway
BEN CURRAN/Fairfax NZ

UNDERDOG: Dean Garmonsway training at Ringside Boxing Gym.

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In boxing, as in life, there are men who are chosen to be great, and those on which greatness is built.

It is a delicate, and often unfair, balance. Hope is pinned to the genetics and determination of one man, while it is pulled from under the feet of the other. The world needs its heroes, after all.

But in boxing, as in life, nothing is for certain.

Joseph Parker - hyped as New Zealand's most promising boxer since David Tua - makes his professional debut tonight, under the bright lights of Auckland's Skycity.

Dean Garmonsway - a Hamilton school teacher - has been chosen as his first opponent.

The first to try, the first to fail - the first of many. A rung on the ladder to Parker's foretold greatness. The script has already been written.

For Joe Fraizer it was Woody Goss; for Mike Tyson it was Hector Mercedes; and for David Tua it was Ron Humes.

The chosen ones; their names never to be remembered, forever scratched from the scrolls of boxing history.

For Parker, it is Garmonsway.

Garmonsway, 38, has been here before. He knows too well the odds stacked against him. He knows top prospects are hand-fed opponents to kickstart their resume. He knows it's just how boxing works. He knows all of this, but he's not listening.

Under the dull florescent light of a boxing gym he trains for the most important fight of his career - a fight which, by all accounts, he's meant to lose.

His fists carve shapes through the frigid air, his wet skin exhales in the winter night. He looks the part of a boxer - 192cm tall, 108kg, muscles in the right places, and if it weren't for the grey wisps of hair sprouting through the black, tied into a tight bun, he wouldn't look his age.

The fitness and conditioning session at Hamilton's Ringside Gym, located in a harsh industrial suburb, is open to all walks, not just fighters. He works alongside elderly women, overweight men. An instructor barks commands over a loudspeaker and music keeps a steady pace.

The smell of old sweat, like damp corn chips, hangs in the air, and splashes of colour - the reds, blues, blacks and golds of boxing bags, pads and gloves - more resemble a child's bedroom, than a warrior's den.

Surrounded by strangers - most oblivious to the battle ahead - Garmonsway's alone. Tapping the bag, alone. He jabs twice with the left - pap pap - followed by a thudding straight right. Again.

All else melts away - pap pap, thud - his mind drawn into a vacuum of thought about the fight, and nothing more.

The Huntly College physical education teacher, who lives in Hamilton East with wife Louanna, has had only three professional boxing bouts, amounting to two wins and one loss, but he feels disrespected by the organisers of his fourth, against Parker, on the undercard of the Shane Cameron versus Monte Barrett title eliminator.

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He took an unpaid day off work to attend the first press conference in Auckland in May, but has been shafted in all promotional material, and yesterday, nearly every major news outlet rolled out stories about Parker, with only 14 typed letters dedicated to Garmonsway, his name, spelt incorrectly.

And, in perhaps the greatest showing of impudence for a proud man, he's been written off as having only a puncher's chance in the six three-minute rounds.

"They lit a fire under my butt with all this disrespect," he says, still rosy cheeked from his training session a week out from the fight.

"He's all over the TV. I see him everyday. But where's me? Who am I? Am I just a nobody?"

Garmonsway started boxing in 2008 after years of playing rugby league for Waikato representative teams and, most recently, with the Waikato Stallions.

He's used to taking, and dishing out, big hits and a few too many forearms to the throat have left his voice a husky whisper.

After busting his ribs during the curtain raiser for a New Zealand Warriors versus Melbourne Storm match, at age 35, he untied his boots and laced up a pair of boxing gloves.

"I just like hurting people, pretty much," he says.

"Well, I do. And I like the feeling, you know when you get a good hiding and you feel like you've had a good fight or a good game of league? You're sore all over, you're wounded, you're broken. I love that feeling. I'm addicted to it."

He earned his boxing credentials at fight nights organised by the Head Hunters gang in Auckland, where he once fought in the main event at 1am.

And in a dramatic upset he stopped former Australian Golden Gloves champion Scott Carroll in three rounds, after taking the fight on a week's notice.

He's sparred with New Zealand Professional Boxing Association heavyweight champion Sonny Bill Williams, and All Black Liam Messam, and claims he was twice considered as an opponent for Williams.

But when Garmonsway lost to Williams' latest foe, Clarence Tillman III, by majority decision in December last year, he lost his chance to make headlines and fight for the title.

"Sometimes when I miss out on fights I get a bit down in the dumps,'' he says, his soft blue eyes searching the floor.

"It's been over five months since I've had a rumble. It's too long.''

Tonight's clash with Parker is the country's hottest boxing ticket of the year, broadcast live on pay-per-view, but Garmonsway says his purse for gloving up is equivalent to two front-row seats, another layer of disrespect, he says, is fueling his fight.

"My wife lets me do this because I promise her we'll stop renting one day, I'll buy a house with the money I make from pro boxing,'' he says.

"I haven't made nothing, you know. So she's still letting me do it, but I'm lying to her.

"I'm a professional boxer, but I can't even be professional, I've got to work because boxing's not going to pay the bills. 

"And people ask, why is New Zealand boxing so crap - there you go. Two boxers are getting paid and the rest of us are just feeding off the scraps."

Garmonsway has his strategy, though. Under the lights, centre stage, on Sky TV - his chance to be seen and heard, his chance to alter the balance.

Parker has a lot to lose, he says. Coming from a decorated amateur career, including a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, he has been "hyped before his time" as the new fighting pride of New Zealand.

"They're setting him up for a big failure. Why would you do that to a young guy?" Garmonsway says.

"He's got a lot to lose now. I've got nothing to lose, but heaps to prove.

"He's a nice guy, it's going to be awesome just to get in the ring and have a fight with him, but it's these other people that are going to make it hard for him. The people that are pissing me off."

Training up to six days a week, twice a day, in a dusty Hamilton East garage under former K1 fighters Peter Sampson and Aaron Dixon, Garmonsway's sharper than ever. He knows he's a chosen one; chosen to provide Parker with a credible challenge, but pose no real threat. He seems to savour his underdog status.

"Everytime it's been like that. So I come to show you guys that it's not going to be that easy. It's not going to be easy.

"Two dudes, anything can happen. He could knock me out in the first five seconds, but no one has.

"I've been knocked out in a fight, but I just hang in there, just recover. Been blacked out a few times but I just hang on until I wake up.

"I'm not going there to lose. I don't jump in the ring to lose. I've had four fights at the Head Hunters, so I'm used to pressure when you walk into a pad with hundreds of gang members all around you. You get nervous. So this is nothing. Walking into a crowd of posh people, it's not going to worry me."

Co-trainer Sampson says Garmonsway's a "natural mongrel'', a fighter who won't quit, and that Parker's in for a shock.

"He just loves it. You never really have to worry about psychologically getting him ready. You just give him a game plan and he enjoys it. Some people just have that mongrel you need to fight, and he's got it."

Sampson jokes that his fighter would kill him if he ever threw in the towel during one of his fights. Garmonsway says he better not even bring a towel to throw.

Parker's manager and long-time financial backer Sir Bob Jones denies shielding his fighter in his professional debut. The promoters sought a quick knockout, which he objected to, saying if Joseph has the goods he should face competitive opponents from the start.

"I refused to insult the public and journalists with joke opponents,'' he says.

"I made extensive enquiries resulting in approach to Dean. First, he had some pro bouts - and importantly, some wins. 

"I'm told he is big, generally competent and has a very good punch.''

Garmonsway sniggers when questioned about his punching power, almost flattered that someone even bothered to ask.

Until now, he has been a ghost.

"I like to think I can punch pretty hard,'' he says with a smile.

"In all my fights I've tried to box. Apparently this guy's a real good boxer so I might just do what I do best and have a bit of a fight.

"If he's the next whoever - Mike Tyson? - he should be able to dogfight, shouldn't he?''

It's a question only he can answer. Tonight, as he walks to the ring under bright lights, TV cameras, and uncertain applause, he will look out at the thousands of unlit faces who don't know his name, look into the opposite corner at his opponent who doesn't know what he's made of, and look into himself for any hint of greatness.

His name is Dean Garmonsway. Will we remember him?

- Waikato Times

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